When our marriage was in its weak years, my husband was desperate for sexual intimacy with me. I thought that the emotional dismissal I felt from him was a good reason for denying him sex. I was hurting; therefore, I thought I was right.
Our marriage bed was entirely under my control. If I didn’t feel like sex, there was no sex. If I insisted on a particular position or wanted the lights off, that’s what we did.
He asked, he invited, he demanded, he begged, he yelled, and he cried for me to change. He felt alone and abandoned in his marriage. He felt emasculated by the one woman with whom he should most feel like a man. He felt emotionally dismissed by me. But did I hear any of this in his words? No.
Just As I Am
Instead of hearing the anguish of his heart, what I heard was judgment about me: I am a bad wife. I am not good enough. He doesn’t accept who I am. He wants me to be different.
I wanted to be accepted by him for who and what I was, including my need for emotional connection and value from him. I perceived his desire for me to change as a rejection of me.
My husband often indicated a desire for a difference in our marriage. He sent me links to blog posts. He asked for us to attend a marriage seminar. He asked me to go to counseling.
All I heard was, Chris is not good enough as she is.
So I resisted, convinced that a willingness to make any effort on my part would be an admission that I was wrong. And that would be saying that my husband was right. And wouldn’t that be tantamount to saying that my hurting heart didn’t matter at all?
I saw a willingness to change as a betrayal of my core self.
I have received emails from quite a few husbands recently, desperate with the same anguish that tore apart my own husband for years.
“She says she’s happy the way things are.”
“She won’t work on our marriage. Why doesn’t she want things to be better?”
“How can she not see how much I’m hurting without her?”
“She doesn’t even think we have a problem in our marriage.”
My husband could have said the same things about me. I rarely let my husband know how miserable I was because I was afraid he would turn it into an opportunity to point out that it was all my fault.
I truly didn’t understand the depths of my husband’s sorrow as a sexually refused husband. He said the words, but I heard them through the filter of assuming all he really wanted was sex.
I’ve also received quite a few emails from wives who hear their husbands through the same filters I had: All he wants is sex. I’m not good enough as I am. I just want him to accept me the way I am, including the fact that I need more of his emotion and that I’m just not as interested in sex.
My heart aches for these husbands and wives. They are unhappy in their marriages, each waiting for the other to change. Sometimes they share with me the things they are doing to work on themselves, but the emails are overwhelmingly full of the writer’s own pain and inability to imagine the spouse’s point of view.
Sometimes it seems that we can be so protective of our own hearts that we have rendered ourselves incapable of empathy.
I recall the moment when I first realized what I had been doing to my husband. My realization hit me in my gut—but as much as I was emotionally distressed by my realization of what I’d done, I didn’t yet have an understanding of what his experience of sexual refusal had been like for him.
Around 25% of marriages have a wife with a higher drive than the husband. Just as there are many sexually refused husbands, there are sexually refused wives. I couldn’t imagine what it was like for my husband to not have enough sex, and I certainly couldn’t understand what it was like for a woman.
About a week after I realized that I’d hurt my husband in my refusal, I read something that changed my heart. A sexually refused wife wrote a post on a marriage forum about how unloved she felt when she would stand stark naked in front of her husband and he wouldn’t respond. I tried to imagine what that would be like.
My thoughts raced from I can’t imagine Big Guy not noticing if that was me to I’m already insecure about my body and I can’t imagine getting rejected when I’m stark naked to What kind of husband doesn’t love his wife enough to have sex with her? to Wait . . . does Big Guy feel rejected when I won’t have sex with him? to He must feel so unloved to Oh, no . . . what have I done?
Seeing sexual refusal described in terms of a woman’s emotions, my empathy finally became bigger than the wall I’d kept around my heart. That was when the walls came crashing down.
Just As He Is
I wanted to be loved and accepted by my husband for who and what I was, including my need for emotional connection and value from him.
With empathy, I was able to understand my husband’s feelings from his point of view.
My husband wanted just what I did—to be loved and accepted by me for who and what he was, including his need for sexual connection and value from him.
In dismissing his sex drive and the emotional connection my husband gained through sex, I was rejecting who and what he was.
Has your husband indicated discontent with your sex life? Has he asked you to make some changes? Does this make you feel unaccepted for who you are?
Take a deep breath and another step. Allow yourself to imagine that your husband feels the exact same way as you do.
Does your husband feel loved and accepted by you for who and what he is, including his need for sexual connection and value?
If he has been asking for sexual change, chances are pretty strong that he feels rejected, not accepted. Are you willing to learn to accept your husband as he is?
Can you find it in your heart to allow God to work on your heart in accepting your husband?
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net